So, finally, I get to participate in a food blog event! Finally, I am settled enough to do it. Yes!
So, the theme of this time’s “Is My Blog Burning” event, hosted by Foodgoat, is, “Orange You Hungry?” Participants are to post a recipe of something that comes out colored orange, which made me think of a favorite Indian dish: Chicken Vindaloo with Mangoes.
Now, mangoes are not supposed to go in the vindaloo, but what does that have to do with anything?. Potatoes seem to be a traditional vindaloo vegetable, but I always feel weird eating potatoes and rice in the same meal. I don’t let that stop me from consuming Dum Aloo (stewed potatoes) with basmati pillau at an Indian restaurant buffet, but when I am home, doing the cooking, I do try to avoid that. Unless I am making Saag Aloo, but that is different. I am not sure why it is different, but it is. Maybe it is the greens that make it okay.
Anyway, back to vindaloo. Vindaloo is a curry dish that is from Goa, which was once a Portuguese colony on India’s western coast. As such, it was originally made with pork, which is unusual for Indian dishes, as pork is not widely eaten anywhere else in India. It was the Portuguese who brought the pig along and elevated it to a culinary staple in Goa. Like many dishes common to southern India, vindaloo is highly spices with mustard seed and chiles, which the Portuguese also brought along with them. (The chiles, not the mustard seed.) Yes, chiles came to India only about five hundred years ago with the Portuguese colonials and traders. It was brought from the New World, where it was native.
It is hard to think of Indian food without the heat of chiles, but it is a recent addition to their spice repretoire. Mind you, they wasted no time incorporating all of the new foodstuffs that came along with traders from the Americas: chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and various beans. By this time, these foods are used so often, they are thought of as native, though it isn’t the case.
What is native to India, however, is the mango. Here in the US, we probably only think that there is one kind of mango, but in India, there are countless varieties of them grown, and not all of them are eaten ripe as fruit. Many of them are picked green and processed as pickles. Some are cut into strips, dried, and ground into a powder, called “amchoor,” which is used to give a sour flavor to some spice mixtures and dishes like channa masala. The ripe fruits are eaten out of hand, of course, and are used in desserts and sweet drinks, like the yogurt-based mango lassi, which is common in Indian restaurants in the US. Ripe fruits are also used in fresh and cooked chutneys, which are used as an accompianment to Indian meals, much like many Americans use salsa to go with entrees or as a dip.
I love mangoes.
I was first introduced to them by my Grandma who would bring boxes of them back from her trips to Florida to visit her sister. Grandma was a diabetic, and so she could never eat any of the delicious cakes and pies she baked every week for everyone else. But she could eat fruit, and mango was her favorite. She loved to peel them and eat them sitting out under the canopy of the huge locust tree beside the barn. The juice would run down her arms, but she would laugh and lick it off, and would cut pieces of it for me to share.
I wasn’t supposed to eat the peel, but I liked to suck on it because I liked the resinous, pine-like flavor of it. To this day, I will suck on a piece of the peel when preparing mangoes, and when I do, it takes me back to memories of sitting on Grandma’s lap under the blooming locust tree, surrounded by the honey-scent of its blossoms and the buzzing of bees, getting sticky mango juice in my hair and on my face.
My first taste of vindaloo came much later, when I lived in Columbia, Maryland. I ate it at Akbar, and it was love at first bite. I knew I had to learn to make it. Because I couldn’t get good lamb all the time, I took to making it with chicken. It is good with chicken, but the richness of the lamb really made it a great dish, so I was trying to think of what to do to make the chicken vindaloo more special.
Mangoes were in season, and I had made a salsa with some of them. I thought about that spicy, sweet salsa with lime juice, and thought about the vindaloo–hot with ginger, mustard and chile, and sour with vinegar, and it clicked.
The cool, sweet juicy mango was just what the chicken vindaloo need to wake up and take off to the stratosphere.
So, to this day, when I make chicken vindaloo–I only do it during mango season.
Chicken Vindaloo with Mangoes
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon ground sweet paprika
mustard oil or peanut oil for stir-frying
1 large onion, cut into paper-thin slices
2″ cube ginger, cut into thin jullienne strips
5-6 fresh green or red Thai chiles, cut into thin slices on the diagonal (to taste)
5 cloves garlic, cut into thin slices
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1″ long thin strips
1/2-3/4 cup water or chicken broth
cider vinegar to taste
salt to taste
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro
2 fresh ripe mangoes, peeled and diced
Grind all whole spices in a spice grinder, coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle, then mix with already ground spices. Set aside.
Heat wok (a wok-like pot called a karahi is used in India) over high heat and when smoking, add about 4 tablespoons of mustard or peanut oil. (Mustard oil gives the most authentic flavor.) When the oil is hot enough to shimmer in the wok, add onions and fry, stirring, until they are a dark golden color. Add ginger and chiles and stir fry until the onions are a medium brown. Add garlic. Be careful–once the chiles start to cook, their oil will get in the air–turn on your vent fan or open windows.
After garlic becomes fragrant, add spices, stir fry for about a minute, and then add chicken, stir fry until chicken is browned on all sides. Add water or chicken broth, turn down heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through and liquid is reduced by half. Add salt to taste, and just before serving add vinegar. (Vinegar boils away quickly; if you add it early in the cooking process, more will have to be added at the end.)
Stir in cilantro, and just before serving, stir in mango pieces, or scatter them over the serving platter. They should remain uncooked and cool and be a contrast to the very hot (both in heat and spice) chicken.
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